Designing synthetic microbial consortia is an emerging area in synthetic biology and a major goal is to realize stable and robust coexistence of multiple species. Cooperation and competition are fundamental intra/interspecies interactions that shape population level behaviors, yet it is not well-understood how these interactions affect the stability and robustness of coexistence. In this paper, we show that communities with cooperative interactions are more robust to population disturbance, e.g., depletion by antibiotics, by forming intermixed spatial patterns. Meanwhile, competition leads to population spatial heterogeneity and more fragile coexistence in communities. Using reaction-diffusion and nonlocal PDE models and simulations of a two-species E. coli consortium, we demonstrate that cooperation is more beneficial than competition in maintaining coexistence in spatially structured consortia, but not in well-mixed environments. This also suggests a trade-off between constructing heterogeneous communities with localized functions and maintaining robust coexistence. The results provide general strategies for engineering spatially structured consortia by designing interspecies interactions and suggest the importance of cooperation for biodiversity in microbial community.
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